Thursday, December 31, 2015

Another One Bites the Dust

photo Pixabay CC/NA
It had been a terrible mix of freezing rain, sleet, snow, and rain all day. When I stepped out in the morning, the sleet felt like little stinging needles on my cheeks. Coming down hard early,  it never let up, just changed form. From sleet to shower-glass like coating of ice, to pouring down 'sideways rain'.

Since I was on break and the fact that some porch pirates had stolen a package off of my front porch while I was doing dishes earlier in the week, I was keenly aware of when my postal carrier was most likely arriving at my doorstep. When I saw him approaching our porch, my intent was to minimize the carriers exposure to the elements and relatedly my mail, to the bucket-filling rain. I was not expecting the response.

The carrier handed me my mail and then called me by name. Not the name on the envelope, "Mr Johnson" I was still processing the seemingly out of place recognition. It was similar to when you encounter a student in the grocery store or street fair. Out of context or a familiar surrounding, recognizing a student, parent, or co-worker is not always instantaneous or a given.

The voice was familiar, but the face mask, thermal hat, and zipped high collared coat didn't give me any hints as to who certainly knew me. Even after his bearded face was revealed, it took me a second to register the letter carrier's self-identification.

A former classmate in our Transition to Teaching cohort and a co-worker at my first school. After my first year, he was to take over my first-grade class and I moved to his fourth-grade class at the request of our administrators. I left the charter school shortly before the start of the new school year to join a larger, more stable district. I saw him a couple of years later at a meet-and-greet for  conference presenters where he was playing  keys for the night. Teaching and loving it.

A gifted and kind teacher, I assumed he was picking up some extra work during the holidays. I was wrong. We lost another one. A teacher who couldn't hold on. I don't know what the specific reason was, but it really doesn't matter.

We lost another one. To the Post Office. A teacher who would rather work in the rain, sleet, and snow, and on this day all in the same day, than suffer through the low pay, disrespect, shifting priorities from politicians, and high-stakes testing.

We lost another one. It breaks my teacher heart.

Thanks for reading.

Follow me on Twitter @YourKidsTeacher

Sunday, December 27, 2015

"I'll hold my own hand."


The photographer was trying to find the shot. The one that separates amateurs and professionals. The difference between a snapshot and photo is small; an elusive detail that comes from years of experience and thousands of throw away shots. In the days of 35mm film, the old rule of thumb was that if you got one "keeper", a shot worth printing, out of a 36 exposure roll you were coming out ahead. Digital photography allows today's photographer the freedom to just keep shooting. Capture the moment then sort 'em out later, but taking a good photo still requires a good setup, subject, and a trained eye.

Today's subjects were growing a little weary of the photog's seemingly constant requests to turn, shift, look to the left/right/up/down, and tricks to conjure up a memorable smile. Dressed in their "Sunday best", the two girls-five and seven, would have much rather been somewhere, anywhere, playing and doing 5-year/7-yr old stuff.

Instead, as the photo session was winding down, the older girl was being asked to do something that seemed foreign to her. "Only" seven, she already possessed an uncommon sense of independence.

"Hold your sister hand"

A glance to her younger sister and quick moment of reflection.

"I'll hold my own hand."

A remarkable statement. The response was without defiance or stubbornness, but stated with confidence and assuredness. She realized, and clearly had been taught, that it was not only okay, but expected that she state her preferences. Isn't this how we want our kids to think? Don't we want them to become self sufficient and recognize that they can be independent thinkers?

Hopefully this first grader will land in a classroom where her differences are respected; a classroom not based in compliance or where the classroom culture supports the teacher's comfort zone and work flow. A classroom where she doesn't have to ask permission to sharpen her pencil.

Hopefully her assignments will give her choices on how she demonstrates her learning. A classroom environment where she doesn't have to worry about a behavior report for "non-compliance" or a "zero" if she doesn't complete the assignment the way in which her teacher prescribes.

Let this child keep shooting, she's a keeper.

Follow me on Twitter @YourKidsTeacher

Thanks to Mrs. Freeman who told me the story behind this picture in her office as she graciously gave me time on her last day, retiring,  after being an educator for 35+ years.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Sphero SPRK Lightning Lab


I've been a fan of  Sphero, both their Robot and the Company, for a couple of years. The robot is a magnet for kids and the company is a magnet for great people. Last Spring, Danielle and Lauren opened Sphero's doors to Room 216 as we (with Noah Geisel) pioneered a Periscope virtual field trip of Sphero's HQ and work spaces in Boulder, CO. A great experience for sure.

The little "app enabled ball that does it all" really does. So much more than a toy, the Sphero line of robots are a great way for kids to learn basic coding, collaboration, and problem solving skills. I particularly like the way that it gets my 6th grade girls excited about coding, creating, and problem solving. Besides, they are a ton of fun. It is a vital part of #Room216's maker space.

A couple of months ago I was asked by the Sphero folks if I'd be interested in helping them use and test their new SPRK Lightning Lab website & app? Interested? Uh, yeah! I couldn't wait to get started. The new interactive platform, designed for kids, parents, and teachers, promised some great additions to an already compelling Sphero app quiver.

The new app/platform allows users to create, publish, and share new Sphero content with a global community. The app allows users to download and run other people's programs, comment, and remix for their own creations. You are able to cloud save programs and access them with other devices as it syncs and makes your creations available to you anywhere.

I've beta-tested for the last few weeks and really love it! The SPRK Lighting Lab site is easy to navigate and intuitive to use. I could immediately see how useful the site and app would be in helping to demonstrate and teach some of the learning objectives that are part of our science standards. I published a couple of activities and shared them with my fellow SPRK Lightning Lab Innovators. As a diverse group, it was great to see what they had created as well. The activities my kids and I created are located here.

Teachers can create compelling activities using text, pictures, as well videos to guide students towards the learning objective. Creators can choose themes (awesomely, prank is a theme!), subject, tie-in NGSS or CCSS standards, activity duration, and grade level range. Teachers (Instructors) can then create steps and add resources to each step of the activity to make a compelling lesson. Teachers can add as many steps as necessary, but I think it's best to keep it around 5-7.



In the SPRK Lightning Lab App, students use block-based programming, to program their robot to do almost anything. If you create an account, you can seamlessly share and save programs between the app and the website for use in activities. A particularly nice feature for teachers is the ability to place notes for instructors. These teaching tips or project notes are only available to users that are signed in as instructors, which will helps teacher guide students without giving them the answer to a problem within the activity.

Teacher can share lessons with others around the world by making their programs public or just shareable with their class. You can also explore and try out what others have created and modify once you've downloaded them to your device.
Programming on an iPhone/iPod
Programs created on the app also sync with an activities on the SPRK Lightning website and can be set as a default program for any activity created. You can build a program in the SPRK Lightning Lab App, make it public, and then make it available on the activity page to set as the default program for that activity! That functionality gives students, teachers, and other users a great place to start with their program, but also allows them to modify to suite their needs.

When they create an account teachers can create student logins and assign activities within their class. You can track progress in real-time and review student work.

My class uses the class iPod or our iPad-mini with our Sphero, but another great thing about Sphero is their concern for accessibility. The SPRK Lighting Lab App is optimized for the new iPad Pro, a pricey option for most, but also works great with the $40 Amazon Kindle Fire (Nook as well). A great thing! The SPRK Lightning Lab app is available in Android and iOS and is compatible with the Sphero 2.0, Sphero SPRK Edition, and the Ollie.

Of course I had fun helping the Sphero folks out while they developed the app and the website, but when I handed it off to a few of my kids, that's when the fun really started. My 6th graders really took to it and absolutely dove into the different functions and actions that the app made available for programs. Students are able to program lights, sounds, headings, turns, and some of the cooler Sphero Functions like the Raw Motor, X&Y accelerometers that are built into the ball! The options and combinations are limitless and naturally lets the creativity and problem solving come out.

We're incorporating the SPRK Lightning Lab into our week of code activities and is already in regular use during "lunch upstairs" sessions in Room216.

I'm looking forward to getting more of our class involved with the app as our school year progresses and utilizing the classroom features and student tracking.

Great stuff from a great company!

Thanks for reading
I'm on Twitter @YourKidsTeacher

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Innovative? Maybe We Just Like Change.

Back in May of this year, the e-mail started with "Congratulations! We are thrilled to welcome you to the first cohort of TED-Ed Innovative Teachers."

From the TED-Ed site: 

The TED-Ed Innovative Educator (TIE) program is a year-long professional development program for dynamic educators who are dedicated to celebrating the ideas of students and teachers around the world. It’s a global program that connects leaders within TED’s network of over 250,000 teachers. As TED’s on-the-ground education ambassadors and advocates, TED-Ed Innovative Educators engage in two months of digital training and 10 months of leadership and innovation projects.

I still don't understand why I was chosen to be part of this select group. I'm just trying to become better at this thing I do for my kids. I think they deserve that. I owe them that.

Over the next few summer months, I'd participate in bi-monthly video conferences with educators from, and not to use the most overused word in the english language, but literally from all over the world. Every other week I'd turn on the webcam in South Bend, IN and work with educators from Brazil, Poland, Indonesia, South Korea, Canada, the U.S. and others. A true worldwide effort that includes 28 educators in 11 countries. Their ideas on innovation were shared on TED-Ed's blog.

Somewhere along the summer we realized that TED and TED-Ed team were going to bring all of us together in New York City to work together and attend the TEDYouth 2015 Event. I got off the video call that morning and quickly messaged some of my 'tweeps' in a "did I hear that right?" effort to clarify the "did I hear, what I just think I heard?" I had, and for the next couple of days my wife had to peel me off of our living room ceiling. 

As I approached the mid-November weekend, I could feel the buzz building on our private Facebook page. Sub-plans, packing, countdowns, and trip to the airport updates were filling the timeline. They first arrival updates starting hitting on Wednesday, Eva was here from Cyprus, Steven from Indonesia was already half way on his 21 hour trip, all of us descending on Tribeca.

I had built some time to explore some New York neighborhoods that I hadn't previously and took in a Rangers game with fellow TIE Nick Provenzano I've posted some of those photos on my Instagram.

On our first morning, most of the TIEs met in the lobby and shortly after a few welcoming hugs and handshakes we found ourselves at the top of the Hugo Hotel. A beautiful space overlooking the river and Manhattan was where we started sharing ideas on what education would look like in 15-20 years. We also had an opportunity to share our TED-Ed Innovation Projects that will amplify student voice and help teachers utilize TED-Ed tools and curated content for their classrooms.
It was here, surrounded by creativity, enthusiasm, floor to ceiling glass walls, sparkling water, and Manhattan, that I began to realize how special this group was. There wasn't an ounce of pretension or ego in the room. The conversations were natural, insightful, and incredibly encouraging. We shared, we laughed, we listened. It was during breakfast that it was clear that we were becoming collaborators not simply colleagues. Friends, not just acquaintances.  
We're All Educators
Whatever our position, whatever our role, the TIEs are all educators. Having a chance to listen, share, and share a space with such a diverse group was simply a transformative experience. I could have spent a week working side-by-side with this group, but I'll settle for a few days. Those few hours were the model on what education should look like.
TED's Chris Anderson

The gang at TEDYouth 2015, Brooklyn Museum - NYC
The gang at the TED offices, NYC. (photo Dian Lofton)
TED-Ed Staff
The TED-Ed staff are amazing. I can't say enough about this group. They bring out our best. They planned for everything and facilitated an incredibly productive gathering. Their forethought, vision, and execution of the weekend's event allowed the TIEs to focus on collaborating, creating, and bonding. Flawless logistics. A great group and on top of that, very nice people! Very.

Learning Opportunities 
From brainstorming, creating animation, learning about cutting edge Adobe products, and witnessing genius on stage at TEDYouth, our days were filled with learning. Hard to pick a favorite moment, but creating an animated short video was tremendously rewarding and dream fulfilling. Special thanks to TED-Ed animator Jeremiah Dickey, who not only wields high-tech tools masterfully, but appreciates old-school analog as well. (e.g. Blackwing 302s)
Part of the amazing TED-Ed animation team, Jeremiah Dickey
We're in Good Hands

The official close of the weekend was the TEDYouth 2015 event held at the beautiful Brooklyn Museum. It was the first time in a couple of days that we had some unstructured time and it took the TIEs to figure out what to do with ourselves, which of course led to more exploring and conversations. We were able to take in all of the speaker's exhibits and stands. Including watching the amazing Pixelation project put on by my new best friends, the TED-Ed animators, create this amazing video. Here are some pictures of how it was done. The adult speakers were great, but my favorite talks were the kids. I loved hearing their excitement about the things in their world and plans to make it a better place. Inspiring.
Ishita Kaytal advises us to Don't ask what we want to be when we grow up. Ask what we're doing now" - Photo Ryan Lash (Flickr)
I'm a TIE 
Maybe I was chosen because I'm not afraid to try new things. Maybe innovation is simply not continuing to do something just because we've 'always done it that way." As I said in my Ted-Ed Innovative Educator highlight profile, "innovation is doing what must be done, instead of what has always been done." 

My students and I don't need permission to innovative, we just need to try. Let us fail, let us succeed. 

Thanks to TED-Ed and my innovative friends for letting me do both.


For more looks in on the weekend visit Workshop Photos 
The applications for the next TED-Ed Innovative Educator cohort opens up soon (December, 2015) find out more here